UBC’s proposed cannabis policy goes against nationwide trend of smoke-free campuses

UBC is taking the high road with a proposed cannabis policy that goes directly against a nationwide trend of smoke-free college campuses.

According to a report from the Canadian Cancer Society, 65 Canadian universities and colleges have already banned smoking of all substances within campus grounds, many of them in anticipation of the legalization of cannabis on October 17.

But UBC’s proposed first draft revisions to Policy 15 — the existing campus smoking policy — would treat cannabis largely in the same way as tobacco is currently regulated.

Rob Cunningham, an analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, said the number of smoke-free campuses has expanded dramatically as legalization approaches.

“Universities and colleges are wondering how they’re going to respond to this in part because they have many underage students on campus,” he said.

The first Canadian university to go smoke-free was Dalhousie in 2003. As of 2016, only 13 campuses had adopted the policy — but after McMaster University banned smoking on campus in early 2017, the number of smoke-free campuses skyrocketed.

Cunningham said the growing number of smoke-free campuses is largely a “snowball effect” as the feasibility of this policy is proven.

“It encourages others to do it because it shows feasibility and encourages other institutions in the region to follow suit,” he said. “In the United States, there are more than 2000 campus sites that are 100 per cent smoke free — but the trend in Canada has definitely picked up.”

While no-smoking policies have been enacted widely in the Maritimes, the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec, Cunningham noted that some BC institutions have been somewhat slower to ban smoking on campus property — a surprising fact considering that British Columbians have the lowest rates of smoking in the country.

“The smoking prevalence around 19 to 24 year olds In Canada is higher than any other age groups — young adults. So that’s all the more important as to why campuses’ should be smoke-free.” said Cunningham.

“It would be natural for BC to be ahead of the country on this issue, but that’s not the case.”

A liberal approach

But UBC hasn’t followed the trend. While the proposed policy modifications are still in draft form, they point to a liberal campus policy that treats cannabis in largely the same way as tobacco.

University Counsel Hubert Lai, who co-chaired the Marijuana Policy Development Committee (MPDC), said in a written statement to The Ubyssey that the size of UBC Vancouver makes a net-ban on the campus area logistically difficult.

“The Vancouver campus is 1,000 acres, and its size creates additional complexity when it comes to a smoking ban,” wrote Lai.

The policy submission also notes that a blanket ban on smoking could potentially push cannabis users to the fringes of campus jurisdiction — in this case, neighbourhoods on the campus endowment lands.

On the Okanagan campus, the university will regulate cannabis use to existing designated smoking areas.

Student advocates on the MPDC also pushed for a “balanced approach” to cannabis on campus. AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Max Holmes said he hopes the policy does not regulate beyond existing provincial guidelines under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act.

“When the community consultation does come up, we’re going to do more research … to make sure that the policy is really just keying in on following the regulations set by the provincial government and not going beyond that,” said Holmes.

Stephanie Lake, president of the UBC chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy who also provided feedback on the committee, pointed out that an attempt to ban cannabis was unlikely to be successful.

“I know just from broader drug policy that a prohibition use to any substance use issue doesn’t eradicate the substance use itself — it just pushes it underground,” said Lake. “That can have lots of unintended consequences, so it’s nice to see that UBC is acknowledging that and kind of allowing moderate access to cannabis for their students.”

Still, Cunningham said UBC’s more liberal direction — which essentially does not go beyond existing provincial and municipal laws — is a missed opportunity to create a healthier smoke-free campus.

“If UBC was to have a campus smoking policy that is fundamentally similar to the provincial minimum, that would be a disappointment,” said Cunningham. “... There are so many institutions in Canada and the US that have done it.

“There’s no reason why UBC can’t be the same.”